Who or what inspired you to take up piano and pursue a career in music?

It was my parents who encouraged me to play the piano when I was a kid. Although they were not professional musicians, they had the great passion for classical music since their youth – my father can play the trumpet, and my mother is an amateur violinist and guitarist. Therefore, my relationship with the instrument started as early as I was about to walk and speak. As things developed naturally, I was quite successful in several local and national piano competitions, but my parents never forced me to pursue an early career as a “prodigy”. On the contrary, they encouraged me to explore other interests in arts, literature, maths, astrology, history, etc. So, although I was clear with myself that I would work in creative environments, I didn’t particularly expect to be a professional musician until the age of 13. At that time, I took part in an international piano competition (my very first international piano competition) in New York City. I won the first prize as well as several recital engagements in the USA including a debut at Carnegie Hall in New York. It was my first time touring overseas, too, so the whole experience opened up my eyes and my mind. Of course, I was quite nervous before my Carnegie Hall debut with repertoire ranging from Liszt’s La Campanella to Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, etc., but thankfully I was well prepared and the resonances from both the audience and the media were very encouraging. Interestingly, I haven’t really encountered any more stage fright since then and I have felt quite natural performing on stage ever since, so I suppose it was truly the turning point in my early musical life.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Many great people have lightened my musical life, and many critical turning points have shaped my career. First of all, I was fortunate enough to have studied with some of the most renowned piano professors I could ever have dreamed to study with, such as Christopher Elton who first discovered me playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations in Germany in 2006. Thereafter I spent the most crucial, fruitful and fascinating years of my undergraduate and postgraduate study with him at the Royal Academy of Music in London, with the generous support from foundations and individuals including the Tabor Foundation, the David Cohen Trust, Sir. David Tang and the Hattori Foundation, to name but a few. Also, I studied with Bashkirov in Madrid before my move to London. I was among his youngest students at that time and his rigorous teaching and the Russian School heritage built a strong foundation for my profound love of Russian repertoire and beyond. Of course, I am ever grateful to my professors in China, where my fingers and technique were trained professionally and solidly at a young age which allowed me to develop my musical understanding and horizons to the next levels during those early years. Also, my fruitful collaboration with Classic FM and the mentorship I have received from various musicians and organisations since my graduation together with my part-time PhD project at King’s College London have all helped to further nurture my playing and my perspective to music-making to an even more comprehensive degree.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

As a performer, I profoundly believe that it is the musician’s excellent playing (to play the right repertoire in the right way at the right time) that makes the musician’s career. So, I see challenges through the music and I set new goals in the ways I programme my concerts and how I play those programmes. One interesting fact about the eternal nature of classical music is the countless possibilities for performing one single piece, if one can be creative and humble enough. It is important to have the confidence and the ability to express oneself openly and sincerely through music which is, in itself, a big challenge. Also, musicians are human beings like everyone else and we have to deal with everyday issues such as coping with jet-lag during our international tours and to deal with stress, etc. So, to think about music and beyond, to keep the awareness of listening, to have the patience of managing silence and to have the courage to say no sometimes are all important to me.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Having just answered the topic about “challenge”, this is indeed a challenging question! Thinking about the most recent one, if I were allowed, I would put my new album “Fire and Water” in the list. In the preparation of this album, I was drawing the Chinese philosophical idea of “Wu Xing” to the programme, showcasing piano music written around the transition between the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, such as Scriabin’s 2nd Piano Sonata, Debussy’s Preludes and Stravinsky/Agosti’s Firebird Suite. It is a project that I have been working on over past year and it well represents my artistic and musical aesthetic in many ways.

Regarding some notable performances, many other facts than the playing itself could add extra excitement, as I recall. For example, one of my most memorable recitals was at the Bristol Proms where the concert was staged by theatre director Tom Morris and programmed with John Cage’s 4:33 and Bach’s Goldberg Variations together. So, I am still proud of presenting the Goldbergs in such radical and controversial way yet of staging it convincingly. Also, I played one of Schubert’s rarely performed but utterly beautiful sonatas D.571 (unfinished) together with piano works by Rzewski and Scriabin at some of my recitals, including the recent one at the Verbier Festival last year. The process of discovering and re-discovering unusual pieces through creative programming is something that I find extremely meaningful and something which helps me communicate with an audience. My recent debut with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall and giving the world-premiere of Einaudi’s Piano Concerto with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic also always make me smile when I think about them, too.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I don’t really pigeonhole myself to one particular genre or one type of work – and I am always curious and seek out new repertoire to learn. However, from what I have experienced over recent years and looking to the future from an objective perspective, I would very much like to explore more works in which I could further enhance my creativity in programming and the way I present them in live performances. The direction of this journey would start with the work of composers from the French Baroque such as Rameau and Couperin, as well as works by my musical hero, Schubert, through the reflection of more impressionism to the modern music of our time.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

No, I don’t throw the dice and decide… Balance, creativity, unity and uniqueness are always the keywords when talking about repertoire. I think one has to make things clear in the mind between dream and reality, creativity and practicality. I am quite down to earth and honest with what my current musical strengths are as well as where my practical limits are each season, so the choice of the repertoire is a combination of my almost scientific and cool-minded analysis and my long-term artistic vision and passion.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I think the great performance makes the perfect concert venue. The participation of the audience also makes certain vibration and atmosphere in the hall which could turn around the acoustic completely. Some places might suit particular repertoires better than the others. So, I think the majority of my own thoughts on concert venues is very subjective. Over these past years though, I have thoroughly enjoyed playing not only in the big halls such as the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Festival Hall in which I actually enjoy the acoustic by performing the Goldbergs as well as Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto, but also in some more intimate spaces around the country including some exquisite churches and concert society venues. Wigmore Hall falls perfectly into this category where it seems that it would be hard for anyone not to sound beautiful!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I could possibly still be answering this questions in several days! Overall, the musicians and the recordings of the first decades of the 20th century always give me a lot of pleasure, both to listen to them and to learn from them. As I have noted about my album “Fire and Water”, the recording was my homage to both the golden age of piano playing as well as to the music-making (in every sense) of that period and it is also very much a tribute to some of the pianists I admire the most, from Rachmaninov and Sofronitsky to Horowitz, Michelangeli and Argerich, to name but a few. Thanks to the technology of our age, we can now get access to endless sources of recordings on-line, so there will always be something great and fabulous to be heard and from which to learn.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are some memorable concerts I have attended that still cause quite a stir inside my mind. I think one of the most extraordinary concerts that I ever attended was hearing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony conducted by Christopher von Dohnanyi at the Verbier Festival when I was 15. Also in the same year, I heard Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, and that performance opened up my ongoing interest in both Stravinsky’s music and contemporary music. Also, Andras Schiff’s performance of the last movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Op.111 as an encore after the Diabelli Variations at the Wigmore Hall was one of the most enlightening spiritual journeys I have ever been on. I clapped too hard that evening and had to have a day off from my practise session the next day to recover!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Along with the growth of age and experience etc., the definition of success also means something different. Personally, I don’t think music-making – which is what we actually do as a musician – should be measured or defined by “success”. But if one has to put it this way, in my opinion, the success of the musician is as simple as having the discipline to work hard, the energy to perform well, the dream to develop further, friends with whom to make music and curiosity and ambition for lifelong learning.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

To learn all the rules is most critical and essential, but then to follow one’s intuition is something that one should also take account when aspiring to make great music. Also, one should always keep in mind that why we make music – is it all about winning a competition or securing a successful career, or is it something far beyond these instant outcomes? I think the longevity and creativity are the qualities that would definitely help to make a much healthier and more thriving musical journey.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I hope I will still sit in front of some gorgeous music and play faithfully every day – this applies not only to the next 10 years, but also the next 50 years.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

In Chinese, there is a saying called 乐极生悲 which translated into English as “Joy surfeited turns to sorrow”. Music inspires and teaches me to see through things in many different ways and aspects. Nevertheless, if one had to categorise and grade the level of happiness, I assume that to be able to focus on the things in which one believes and to be able to live it with great enthusiasm, would be perfect happiness – which in my case, is to be a musician in every sense.

What is your most treasured possession?

I would say my family, mentors, friends, and all the wonderful people who have been and will be with me on my musical journey.

What is your present state of mind?

Peaceful and thriving at the same time!

 

Ji Liu’s new album Fire and Water is available now on the ClassicFM label. More information


Ji Liu (born 1990) is a Chinese-born concert pianist, recording artist and composer, currently based in London.

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(Photo: ClassicFM)

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Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

Initially my grandmother who played, though not to a professional level, and taught me how to read music when I was about 5 years old. Also I think for a large part I have been motivated by my love of music and have always enjoyed the challenge that learning a new work brings. I remember as a teenager learning progressively more challenging pieces and there was a certain thrill in challenging myself. As I have got older it has been the desire to share the music that I love with as many people as possible, especially the music of Scriabin and less well-known composers. In addition, music is endlessly fascinating and you never really ‘master’ anything; each performance brings new challenges and the more you perform a work, the more you discover about it.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I have been lucky enough to study with a number of fantastic teachers, including: John York, Charles Owen, Martin Roscoe and Ronan o’Hora, and have of course learnt a great deal from all of them. I have always been excited by discovering composers and works which are not so well known – from the age of around 19 I found myself being drawn away from what might be considered the ‘core’ repertoire. This curiosity has led me to the performance of a lot of contemporary music, which is an area I am still very interested in. Most importantly it led to my ongoing obsession with the music of Scriabin, and particularly Scriabin’s late music. My desire to understand this music, and to comprehend how it came about has really shaped my career in the past 5 years, leading to 2 recordings and the completion of my Doctorate (which was based on the performance of Scriabin’s Sonata no. 6).

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

At times, simply keeping going. There are always periods where things are quiet, or perhaps teaching has momentarily taken over. During these times I have always tried to challenge myself with something new – this is partly why I decided to work towards a Doctorate, and partly what led me to crowdfund 2 recordings. The music profession is changing and you have to make your own opportunities, which can be tough at times, as well as daunting.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

The two Scriabin discs I have recorded, which cover the complete ‘late’ piano music. Both records were organised by myself: everything from the crowdfunding, to the CD design. This is not easy music to record and the second disc (completed in January) was recorded in 18 hours over two days, which was very taxing, but completely exhilarating. The resulting recordings I have now heard and am quietly very proud of.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

That’s difficult to say, but the works I enjoy performing best would certainly include the late music of Scriabin, Ravel and Debussy, Brahms and Schumann, as well as quite a lot of contemporary music – in particularly James Macmillan’s piano sonata and Thomas Adès’ ‘Traced Overhead’.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

It’s important to play to your strengths, as well as to perform only works that you enjoy playing (where possible). I like varied programmes, particularly as I often include quite a lot of more unusual repertoire, so it’s nice to break this up with something more familiar.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I love the new Milton Court hall [near the Barbican]; it has a wonderful acoustic. I have also been very lucky to be able to participate in the ‘En Blanc et Noir’ festival in the south of France for a number of years now. Their concert venue is open air, in the main square of a little village called Lagrasse, under the covered medieval market. Despite the odd gust of wind, this is a really magical setting, especially when the sun is setting.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have become a very big fan of Stephen Hough’s playing, for me it encapsulates what I love about live performance; it is at once extremely exciting and passionate, and completely controlled. Having studied a lot of Scriabin, I have got to know the recordings of Norwegian pianist Hakon Austbo, and these have been a real inspiration to me throughout my preparation. I have been lucky enough to play to Hakon a couple of times and have always been struck by the reverence with which he treats the music, as well as his musical imagination. Finally I would have to add Martin Roscoe, who I studied with at Guildhall. He is one of the most exciting and versatile musicians I have ever met and I will never forget his performance of Beethoven’s Appassionata at Guildhall: it remains for me one of the most memorable concert experiences of all time.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I have performed a couple of recitals of Scriabin by candlelight, which were both very special occasions. The first was in the monks’ dining room in an old monastery in France – it had a wonderful vaulted ceiling and was a perfect setting for the music. The second was in the Asylum chapel in Peckham, which was to launch my first Scriabin disc – it was extraordinarily cold, but no one seemed to care as the venue and music were so perfect together. It was this performance that convinced me that some works are simply better suited to certain locations – Scriabin in the concert hall works fine, but in the ruined chapel of the Asylum, it took on new dimensions.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

The musical world changes and to survive you must be in touch with how this is happening. For instance Facebook is now arguably one of the most important methods of publicity, and artists must be able to engage with this form of promotion and communication. In addition, you have to make things happen for yourself, and cannot expect opportunities to be handed to you. This means being willing to put yourself on the line, as well as being forthcoming – not something I find easy. Constantly finding new and innovative ways of presenting yourself seems to be the way forward. I would also add that it is very important to know your strengths and play to them.

What is your present state of mind?

Determined.

James Kreiling has performed in most of the major London concert halls, as well as throughout Europe. His interest in contemporary and new music has led to performances in the Royal Albert and Barbican Halls – most notably in the summer of 2007 he performed solo in the BBC Proms’ composer portrait of David Matthews. In 2008 James was selected as one of the Park Lane Group’s young artists and this resulted in a solo recital in 2009 at the Purcell Room to great critical acclaim, as well as recitals in St Martin in the Fields and in the Little Missenden Festival. In addition James has broadcast regularly for BBC radio 3, including performances of the music of Jonathan Harvey, David Matthews and Peter Eotvos. Together with his wife Janneke Brits, James is a member of the Brits-Kreiling piano duo. They have performed together regularly since 2009 and have been regulars at the En Blanc et Noir piano festival in Lagrasse, France. They have performed in many of the major venues in London, and broadcast for BBC radio. They are both teaching assistants at Music at Albignac, a summer course based in the south of France run by pianist and French music specialist Paul Roberts. One of James’ biggest passions is the music of Alexander Scriabin and he is currently working towards a performance-based research doctorate at the Guildhall school of music, which is focused on the analysis and performance of Scriabin’s late piano sonatas. He gives regular lecture-recitals on Scriabin’s piano music and as part of the celebrations for Scriabin’s centenary in 2015, he will be making his first commercial recording in June of this year, which will centre around Scriabin’s late piano music.

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

My mother studied piano and has taught piano all of her adult life. Her father has also played the piano since childhood, and has a keen interest in music, so any musical inclination comes from my mother’s side. There was always a lot of music in our house. My brothers all played something, though none of them persevered past their early teens – unfortunately I missed out on the opportunity to play in any kind of family band. Past that point there were also the sounds of more modern genres coming from different parts of the house.  I was first introduced to the piano aged five but at first didn’t really take to it, even though it seems there were things I could do without needing much instruction.  About a year later, I found that some school friends had begun regular piano lessons.  I didn’t like the idea of their being better than me, so from that point I started to take it more seriously! As I moved onto more challenging works, and to those by the great composers, I really felt a strong connection to music, and it was only a few years later that I realised that I wanted to be a musician.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My mother was my first teacher. She realised quite early that I needed additional guidance and, age 9, I also began to have lessons with Hilary Coates, and then soon after with Hilary’s husband, Christopher Elton, who is professor of piano (and at the time Head of Keyboard) at the Royal Academy of Music.  Hilary helped to focus and fine tune my technical development in those early stages, and Christopher guided me musically through my teens and into adulthood.

My first inspirations among other artists were some of those whose recordings were in our collection – pianists like Horowitz, Argerich and Rubinstein. I recall at that time being particularly inspired by listening to Rubinstein playing Chopin – in particular his carrying of a cantabile melody mesmerised me. In my early teens, I became interested in the playing of other pianists born or active in the first half of the century – Cortot, Rosenthal, Friedman, Edwin Fischer, Feinberg, Schnabel amongst others – and found in their playing particular aesthetics, ideas and inspiration to inform and enrich my own approach.  I also became interested in other historical performers.  Wilhelm Furtwängler’s conducting was a particular inspiration – the wholly ‘organic’ way in which he applied often acute agogics, always maintaining fluidity, was remarkable, as was the depth of the sonority he drew from the string sections.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

After the success in the BBC Young Musician Competition when I was 11, there was some pressure to become a full-time performer, but I’m glad that my parents and I resisted this, retaining two periods of a month each year in which I’d give concerts, but with the majority of my time reserved for music lessons and my wider education.  However, the transition from this pattern to performing more or less the whole year round in my late teens was a challenge.  I’d been used to the luxury of having relatively long periods for preparation and only playing one or two concerti and one recital programme each season.  The need to have a good deal more repertoire on the go at any given time meant I needed to make changes to my preparation regime.  It was tough at the outset of having to make these adjustments, but I managed to soldier through this period and realised that this was very much part of being a concert pianist.

Which particular works do you feel you play best?

I can’t answer this directly because I don’t think about works in quite this way.  Rather, I look at repertoire to which I feel a genuine connection (above all on an emotional level).  This could be a work by Couperin from the early Baroque or, as with this coming season, the Berg Sonata.  The question of whether a particular performance is any good or not is a separate issue, but I don’t personally feel that I’m best in, say, a given composer or period.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I enjoy variety from one season to the next – while also striving to expand my musical horizons over time – and similarly within programmes. I can listen with pleasure to a recital of three Schubert sonatas, say, but I know that this kind of programming is not for me as a performer.  Perhaps I could flesh out my approach using this season’s programme as an example.  I enjoyed greatly playing Bach’s 4th Partita five years ago and wanted to play another of the suites, choosing the fifth French Suite which is one of my favourites.  I was considering programming Brahms op.119 – having performed a number of the chamber works and his 1st Piano Concerto I wanted now to explore some later works – when Brett Dean sent me his pieces Hommage à Brahms, written for Emmanuel Ax as interludes between each of the four Brahms Op.119 works. I thought it was very effective as a set, with the Dean pieces providing illuminating contrasts to the Brahms, and that it was fascinating to have this juxtaposition of old and new.

I have felt close to Berg’s music since performing some of his songs during my Royal Academy days. I also relished getting to know his violin concerto by reading it through with a friend who was preparing it. I love this rich and dense harmonic world, with its tonal ambiguity, whole-tone scales and chromaticism.   I think it is fascinating to consider that Debussy’s Prélude à l’apres midi d’un faune was written just a year after the Brahms op.119, and it is an ideal preface to the Berg sonata – Pierre Boulez called Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune the beginning of modern music.  Debussy had used whole-tone scales and also unstable tonality, evoking atmospheres in sound that had not been known in Western music until that time.  Of course, Debussy’s work is for orchestra… However, Debussy’s champion and friend George Copeland had made a transcription for piano, as had Leonard Borwick.  There is a telling quote from Copeland about his arrangement: “I spoke to [Debussy] of my desire to transcribe some of his orchestral things for the piano — music which I felt to be essentially pianistic. He was at first sceptical, but finally agreed, and was in complete accord with the result. He was particularly delighted with my piano version of L’après-midi d’un faune, agreeing with me that in the orchestral rendering, which called for different instruments, the continuity of the procession of episodes was disturbed. This has always seems to me the loveliest, the most remote and essentially Debussyan, of all his music, possessing, as it does, a terrible antiquity, translating into sound a voluptuous sense that is in no wise physical.” Everyone knows this work and the orchestral original is indelibly imprinted.  I suppose the wanton challenge of playing a piano transcription thus appealed to me all the more…  In the end, I felt that Borwick’s was more effective in many sections (Copeland could be somewhat sketchy), so what I’m playing is mostly Borwick, with some bars from Copeland and some of my own.  I’m ending the programme with Gaspard.  I’d played and recorded this in my late teens, but I love this music and felt it was time to return to it.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Although the acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall is not a friendly one for piano (it is cavernous and projection will always be an issue), I particularly enjoy the atmosphere at the Proms. The audience is so responsive, yet they are so very quiet before you start playing. It’s hard to think of another venue where one can so immediately feel the response of audience members.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It would be difficult to pick out one…but if I had to I might pick out the Proms once again! I have been lucky enough to have played both on the First and Last nights, which are both unique events. Certainly for my first Proms experience as a performer, playing Liszt 2 on the first night was very memorable indeed.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I’m sure whole books could be written on the subject of how to define success in music!  For me, having given a performance that seems to have been genuinely appreciated by colleagues brings what most feels like ‘success’.  This is one of the reasons I am increasingly drawn to chamber music.  It’s lovely if a conductor or the leader of an orchestra says something truly complimentary after a concerto, for example, but playing with a handful of colleagues and finding during the performance and afterwards that we seemed all to be firing off one another’s imagination and involvement is a wonderful feeling.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I don’t feel qualified to give any general answer, not least as I sense that each person needs to find his or her way of connecting deeply to music.  It could be that a promising young musician listens to the most magical (to me) performance of a Chopin Nocturne and is not particularly moved, but is shaken to the core by the last movement of Mahler 6.  I don’t want to sound in the least didactic but I have the feeling that seeking that deep connection – via whichever route works best – is the necessary starting point.  After that, ideas and concepts will begin much more easily to fall into place.

 

British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor is internationally recognized for his electrifying performances and insightful interpretations. His virtuosic command over the most strenuous technical complexities underpins the remarkable depth and understanding of his musicianship. Benjamin is renowned for his distinctive sound, described as ‘poetic and gently ironic, brilliant yet clear-minded, intelligent but not without humour, all translated through a beautifully clear and singing touch’ (The Independent), and making him one of the most sought-after young pianists in the world.

Benjamin first came to prominence as the outstanding winner of the Keyboard Final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition at the age of eleven, and he was invited to perform with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the First Night of the 2011 BBC Proms at just nineteen. Since then, he has become an internationally regarded pianist and was announced in 2016 as the inaugural recipient of The Ronnie and Lawrence Ackman Classical Piano Prize with the New York Philharmonic. As part of this he returns to New York in April 2018, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen as well as chamber music with members of the orchestra at the Tisch Center for the Arts at 92nd Street Y.

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(photo: Patrick Allen/Opera Omnia)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I used to listen to a lot of music (mainly vocal) when a young child and so my parents decided to buy a piano for me.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I’m largely self-taught as a pianist but have been inspired at different times by recordings of artists such as Richter, Gilels, Barenboim, Brendel and many others.

What have been the greatest challenge of your career so far?

Performing all the Beethoven sonatas in two weeks during the 2011 Edinburgh Festival.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I have just finished recording most of the Beethoven solo piano music and I’m currently listening to the tapes to work out whether I can be proud of them or not.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think that’s probably for other people to decide.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I usually devise a large-scale project for the season such as a Beethoven or Schubert cycle but it’s also important to play as many different composers as I feel comfortable with. Inevitably I have to deal with requests from promoters which mean I always play more repertoire than is ideal each year.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam (both large and small halls) has amazing acoustics and I have fond memories of my Carnegie Hall debut.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Possibly my debut at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2003 or returning there to play Charles Ives’ mind-bogglingly complicated Concord Sonata.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being able to go to sleep after a concert and forget about it, not lying awake thinking that it wasn’t good enough.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

The idea that music-making is not a circus and that we’re not necessarily interested in how fast you can play. Use imagination in choosing and exploring lesser-known parts of the repertoire as there is a risk that all young pianists now want to play the same pieces.

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Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I saw a grand piano at the house of a friend of my parents. She was a piano teacher, she explained me the mechanism of the instrument, she played a bit… I fell in love. I was 2 and a half years old! I think I saw it as a huge toy, a gigantic noisy toy. Noisy but beautiful. So I immediately asked my parents if I could play the piano, but this teacher said “not before 5” so I had to wait. It was (apparently!) tough.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My first piano teacher, Michèle Perrier, with whom I started the piano. I think she gave me a fundamental quality, curiosity, as well as an aspect that is more important every day of my life: discipline. Two qualities you absolutely need to keep “walking”!

Then of course you meet lots of different people who give you advises, who can impress you. If I had to give one other name it would be my teacher in the Paris Conservatoire, Gérard Frémy, who himself studied with Heinrich Neuhaus in Moscow. His words resonate every single day in my head.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I could give you names of very difficult works I had to learn in a very short time like a Rachmaninoff third concerto at the same time as Bartok second concerto… but actually the main challenge today is to organize my personal work, when to work on what piece, how far in advance, to be sure I am ready for each concert. I play so much repertoire that I always work on several programmes at the same time, and this brings much more stress than actually performing.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Proud?…. Never really proud of a performance. Very happy, it happens. It’s more a question of repertoire. I will always remember some works, at some nights in some concert halls… Liszt sonata in Wigmore Hall in London last July, my first Sonatas and Interludes by John Cage in a friend’s Gallery, again in London… or the Ravel concerto at Carnegie Hall… it’s impossible to make a hierarchy.

For the recordings…. Impossible to say. Maybe the series of three Bartok as I was (and still am) deeply in love with his music. I think the result is a good “picture” of who I am now as a musician.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The pieces I love the most! Works in which I really feel there is a story to tell. Actually, I don’t think there are works I play which I don’t love….

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

It’s following a mysterious logic, one programme makes me think of another. Playing the Berg sonata made me think of the Liszt sonata because of its key (B minor) and its contrast of length…. It can be suggestions from my recording company (Bartok). Or very simply musical “crushes”, works I forgot…. It always takes a long time to build a recital programme as each work in it must have its reason to be there, and must have a link with the other pieces. The way you organize a recital programme makes it alive (or not). For me, it’s a long (and sometimes painful ) process to find the perfect match or balance.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

There are many. But Wigmore Hall will always be “my” musical home. It has a special energy, a special acoustic, a special history. I must have performed more than 40 concerts there so “my” history there makes it even more special.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Impossible to say. I’m usually very happy to be on stage and it’s very often a powerful experience. I could name too many. There are special legend places where you think “wow…. I’m playing there”. Carnegie Hall in NY, Musikverein in Vienna, Royal Albert Hall for the Proms in London, Severance Hall in Cleveland or Chicago Symphony Hall… or the Paris Philharmonie

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

The possibility to play what you want. It’s when there is only happiness to perform. It’s a well-balanced life, without the necessity to play “more” concerts. It’s when you can say “no”. It’s when you work the people you want and love (especially Alina Ibragimova!)

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Discipline, curiosity and communication. It should drive people’s personality inside and outside music. Curiosity keeps you alive. The desire to keep discovering, maybe change your ways to see new/different things. Meeting new people….

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

In my house with my family.

 

Cédric Tiberghien’s new recording of Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Piano Sonata No 2 & Scherzo No 2 is released on 27 October on the Hyperion label. Further information

Cédric Tiberghien’s flourishing international career sees him performing across five continents in some of the world’s most prestigious halls, including Carnegie Hall in New York, the Kennedy Center in Washington, the Royal Albert Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Wigmore Hall and Barbican in London, the Salle Pleyel and the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, Berlin’s Bechstein Hall, Salzburg’s Mozarteum, the Sydney Opera and Tokyo’s Bunka Kaikan and Asahi Halls.

Over the years, Cédric Tiberghien has established a strong reputation with a recital repertoire focusing on the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Szymanowski, Bartók and Berg.

Cédric Tiberghien studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Frédéric Aguessy and Gérard Frémy and was awarded the Premier Prix in 1992, aged just seventeen. He was then a prize winner at several major international piano competitions (Bremen, Dublin, Tel Aviv, Geneva, Milan), culminating with the First Prize at the prestigious Long-Thibaud Competition in Paris in 1998, alongside five special awards, including the Audience Award and the Orchestra Award. This propelled his international career, leading to over 150 engagements worldwide, including visits to Japan and appearances throughout Europe.

With over sixty concertos in his repertoire, Cédric Tiberghien has appeared with some of the world’s finest orchestras and conductors. He is also a dedicated chamber musician, with regular partners including violinist Alina Ibragimova, soprano Sophie Karthäuser, baritone Stéphane Degout, violist Antoine Tamestit and cellist Pieter Wispelwey. His passion for chamber music is reflected in a number of recordings for Hyperion with Alina Ibragimova, including Ravel, Schubert, Szymanowski and the complete Mozart sonatas. He has also recorded piano concertos by Dubois, solo piano music by Karol Szymanowski, including Masques, Métopes and two sets of Études, and has undertaken a survey of Bartók’s piano music encompassing three albums.

 

 

(photo: Jean-Baptiste Millot)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

Ultimately my parents! However that isn’t quite as simple as it sounds: they were both professionally trained pianists, and I never remember a time when I wasn’t absorbing beautiful music at home from my mother’s fingers, but I didn’t really get to know my father till I was 20. Nevertheless he was in the background guiding my musical training, so I owe my main inspiration to both of them though at different times and in different ways.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My fabulous teacher from 7 to 11 was Lamar Crowson. Without his thorough grounding I doubt if I would ever have become a pianist as I had a boyish rebellion at around 12 to 16 when I didn’t do any serious practice, at one point giving up playing completely. At that time non-classical pianists inspired me: McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk. I still love them.

Later on I was much inspired by some great string players, particularly Sandor Vegh, at Prussia Cove, who enormously influenced my thinking towards a more expressive, less literal and technical (and also less subjective) response. Also György Kurtág, perhaps the greatest musician I have ever encountered..

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I don’t think anything came close to preparing the UK premiere of the first six Ligeti Études. In their early days they were only printed as a facsimile of Ligeti’s manuscript and I would pore over a single bar for hours just trying to work out what I was supposed to play, let alone play it. The three Beethoven Sonata marathons I did were a challenge, but at least I knew the music already!

Which recordings are you most proud of?

Hmmm – none particularly! Some I can live with – the Balakirev Sonata and other pieces, Weber 2nd Sonata, some chamber music recordings and some of the contemporary two-piano recordings I did with Andrew Ball 20 years ago or more. When I hear, for instance, John Casken’s “Salamandra”, the two-piano piece he wrote for us, I wonder what became of this furiously energetic young man! Though I keep going and still have recording plans, including with my current duo with Mariko Brown.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I think that if I stopped to think of it I would neither play those well nor anything else! I try to approach each piece and each performance as if it’s the first time I’ve played it. Nevertheless there have been some recurrent themes and composers I seem to feel more at home with: Beethoven and Debussy – perhaps two very different sides of me.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I try to play only music I love and feel I can say something to at a given moment. That can sometimes be a problem if a recital is booked a long time ahead though I usually find I can rekindle the love affair! I need enough variety, though sometimes reality puts a check on that – If you’re playing a Beethoven cycle you basically have to spend most of your time on Beethoven. Certain types of music become less interesting to me to play as I get older, for instance I don’t play much of the more abstract contemporary music any more. On the other hand I’m going to start playing Bach in my 70s.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

A good concert leaves me on a high wherever it is. Having said which, I’ve only played a few times in the Albert Hall and it was fabulous. Just that unique, electric atmosphere.

Favourite pieces to perform?

Ravel G major Concerto. Oh for another chance to do that!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Fritz Kreisler. David Oistrakh. Arthur Rubinstein. Carlos Kleiber. Martha Argerich. Samson François. Yuja Wang.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing in the garden of the British Ambassador’s residence in Riyadh with an air temperature of 36 degrees, and the Ambassador’s wife’s falcons solemnly listening.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Love, love, love. The more they love the music, and themselves playing it, the more they will want to communicate with their audiences, the more technique they will want to acquire (for the right reasons) and the more closely and accurately they will want to read the scores of these incredibly great musicians who have written their inexhaustible masterpieces for us.

Julian Jacobson celebrates his 70th birthday with a series of Sunday afternoon concerts at St John’s Smith Square, commencing on 22nd October. Full details and tickets here

One of Britain’s most creative and distinctive pianists, Julian Jacobson is acclaimed for the vitality, colour and insight he brings to his enormous repertoire ranging across all styles and periods.

Read more about Julian Jacobson